“I’ve Reset the Counter”: Nicolas Touzaint Records Second Boekelo Win – Seventeen Years On

Nicolas Touzaint and Diabolo Menthe record a perfect finish, earning themselves the Boekelo title for 2023. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The margins were extraordinarily tight at the top, and in today’s showjumping finale at Boekelo, the poles were falling in much the same way that elusive concepts like ‘morality’ and ‘dignity’ and sometimes ‘trousers’ fall at the event’s various parties.

So when overnight leader Nicolas Touzaint entered the ring, it was without a rail in hand — and, no doubt, with bated breath. It had been seventeen years since his only former win here, which came when he was a green-bean 26-year-old and not even, yet, a Badminton winner (though he was already, then, an Olympian, because we’re pretty sure they started packing him off to Olympics when he was still riding horses with training wheels and sippy cups attached). In that seventeen years, a lot had changed: the sport, the event itself, which no longer, thank god, has a grass arena, and himself, too. Nearly two decades of experience and maturity and highs and lows and hard-won knowledge had deepened the colours of the world around him, had refined his instincts and sharpened his resolve — but they hadn’t changed the way he rides over a fence. And so, as he nimbly piloted the ten-year-old Diabolo Menthe around the influential showjumping track, legs pointing to Germany and elbows heading off towards Belgium every time he achieved take-off, it all made for rather exciting viewing. Would he tip a rail? Would he go into orbit himself? Or would he, like so many of the great French riders, use his unique style to shift all his weight out of his horse’s way, making it almost impossible to take a sensible photo but also, making sure every pole stayed firmly in its cups?

It was the latter, of course. Diabolo Menthe landed from the last fence, which had fallen seventeen times already, and the crowd — and expressive, ebullient, elbow-y Nicolas — went wild.

Nicolas Touzaint and Diabolo Menthe. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

We just about managed to stop him from galloping pell-mell around the ring with no reins to catch up on how he’s feeling.

“I’m delighted to reset the counter,” he laughs.”I’m feeling very relieved, and very happy! It’s been a lot of work for a long time. Boekelo really is an important test in our programme, and I’ve got so much joy and satisfaction in doing well here. I felt like there wasn’t any rubs, and the time was exactly as we needed to be, so it felt really good.”

Diabolo Menthe, who hasn’t finished outside the top nine in an FEI event since 2020, and who has never had a cross-country jumping penalty in an international, seemed almost fated to win this week: this is his third CCI4*-L, and in his first, he finished third; in his second, he finished second; and now, because we like things to be nice and neat and organised around here, he had to win, really, didn’t he?

Boekelo’s 2023 podium: Nicolas Touzaint (centre), Lara de Liedekerke-Meier (left), and Ros Canter (right). Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Of course, that’s so seldom how equestrian sport works — but since the horse’s first days under saddle, Nicolas has believed he had a big win in him one day, even when, as a young horse, Diabolo Menthe was dismissed by naysayers. Now, there’s a very real chance we could see him posing a serious threat at Paris in front of a home crowd next summer.

“I bought him as a three-year-old, and so I’ve done everything with him. I’ve built his career up all the way through ’til now,” says Nicolas, who began his week in third place on a 25.4 and finished on that score, too, moving up to the overnight lead yesterday after a fall for dressage leader Julia Krajewski and jumping penalties for second-placed Hallie Coon. “I’m very happy to have him shoulder to shoulder now with Absolut Gold HDC; today he joined him in aptitude and experience. I feel incredibly lucky to have two amazing horses, and to have them both qualified now for Paris — although I haven’t made any decisions about which one might be best for that.”

Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Ducati d’Arville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Belgium’s Lara de Liedekerke-Meier has had one hell of a week, to cap off one hell of a year — but before her final ride of three today, on overnight second-placed Ducati d’Arville, she wasn’t sure if her luck might be starting to run out. Her first ride, the inexperienced nine-year-old Formidable 62, knocked three rails; her second, the ordinarily very good-jumping Hooney d’Arville, dropped out of the top ten after tipping two.

But when she came into the ring on Ducati, a horse who she calls ‘the princess of the group’ because he’s not always been easy to manage and maintain, she decided to throw all her cards on the table — despite the fact that the gelding has never jumped a clear round at a long format.

And then, today, he did.

“I was second yesterday, I was second today — I’d rather not be second, but second it is,” laughs Lara. “But if you would have told me that [I’d finish in this position] at the beginning of the week, I would have just never believed it. I think I will have to check the result a couple of times, just to be sure that it happened! I’ve always loved this horse, to the moon and back, for so long, and I kept believing in the fact that [a result like this] might happen. I think it’s thanks to all the hard work at home: he’s not the easiest to handle, and this is a testimony to all the people behind me and just keeping on believing in it. I wish I can do that again; I hope it’s not a one shot, but today I’m just so thrilled. All my horses were fantastic. I have now three horses qualified for Paris, one which is second at Military Boekelo! I cannot complain, I’m just so, so happy.”

Lara has worked enormously hard to overcome a run of bad luck over the last couple of seasons that culminated in a hugely unlucky fall at the first fence at the World Championships last year — and this year, this result is just the cherry on top of a glorious cake. She’s currently the rider with the most FEI wins worldwide in 2023; she was also a crucial part of qualifying Belgium for the Olympics for the first time in over a decade at this summer’s European Championships, and in earning the overall FEI Nations Cup series win, too.

“It was just a question of being patient, and knowing the sport, that if I keep working, I keep believing in the system I have, it will work,” says Lara of her change in fortunes. “I know the wind will turn at some point, but at the moment it just is the way I want, and I will try as hard as I can to keep the horses happy and to stay surrounded by people who believe in me and think the same way and I hope we can stay on this path a bit longer.”

And of Belgium’s bright future, she continues, “It’s 24/7 we speak about it with my husband, Kai, who’s also the team manager. It was so much putting into place — to have the right horses at the right place, also not being influenced by the other riders at competitions, just trying to do what’s best for me and my horses and just leading the way. Even here, being third [as a team], it’s something — Australia, the USA, Great Britain…but we’re still in the picture in this bigger Nations Cup. There were some easier Nations Cups with less competition, but here, it was really amazing. I think we all did it together, and it has been a team effort, and it feels like we like being together more and more, which is something I think Kai worked hard on, and I’m really pleased to have been part of it and be again on the podium here.”

Ros Canter and MHS Seventeen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

European Champion Ros Canter came to Boekelo this week with two very different horses: in the former Nicola Wilson ride, she had a green-as-grass CCI4*-L debutant, while in the former Sarah Way ride Dassett Cooley Dun, she had something much more experienced, but pony-sized and short-striding, which meant she had to keep her headspace, and her plan of attack, split neatly into two halves. But with both rides, one thing was the same: she didn’t have notions of winning, simply of getting to know each better and develop them a little bit further.

That was something she certainly managed, but to her delight, she also went a few better — MHS Seventeen climbed from a first-phase 11th, on a 28.6, to fifth after an early clear inside the time yesterday. When he came into the pressure cooker of the main arena today, he didn’t bat an eyelid at the myriad distractions within and without the ring, and delivered another foot-perfect clear inside the time to finish on his dressage score and take a final third place. And 14.3hh Mouse? He, too, excelled, finishing on his dressage score of 32.3 to execute a weekend-long climb from 37th to eighth.

“I don’t think I had that expectation at all when I came into this week,” says a delighted Ros. “MHS Seventeen is still an inexperienced horse; he only stepped up to four-star at Bramham this year and was very green there. So he’s had a lot to learn in a very short space of time, and I didn’t dream at all that he would be where he was at the end of this week. And then little Mouse — what an amazing horse he is! It almost makes me emotional because I don’t even know him that well, but he just brings pleasure to every single person that watches him, and I think he’s just amazing.”

MHS Seventeen, who was also thrust into the important role of pathfinder for the second-placed British team this week, is another slightly quirky addition to Ros’s string.

“He can be a spooky little horse, actually, but  you just have to get stuck in with him,” she explains. “He’s not a horse you point to a fence and he says, ‘I’ve got the job’; he wants me to hold his hand all the time, but I actually really love that about him. I’m not into strong horses particularly, I don’t find strong horses easy, so to have a horse like him that I can really get behind on a cross country really suits me.”

But, she says, his spookiness is very different to that of, say, Izilot DHI, with whom she won Blenheim’s CCI4*-L last month.

“Izilot’s spooky at things around the jumps, whereas this horse would draw back, actually, at the fences, so it just means that you can kind of gallop in and he does the preparation work for you, which is actually a really nice feeling.”

Ros Canter and Dassett Cooley Dun. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Ros rode the same dynamic duo at Bramham back in June, but there, she had them in the opposite order of go on cross-country day — something she was keen to reverse this time to allow her to give them the individual rides they needed.

“I definitely wanted to ride MHS Seventeen before Mouse,” she says. “I rode Mouse before him at Bramham, and I felt like, because riding [Mouse] is a little bit different, and his strides aren’t always the same as a normal horse, I thought that would be the better way round.”

But because of the slightly jumbled reverse order of go format of today’s showjumping, the two horses were switched the other way again. Fortunately, though, they were put into two completely different sections: Mouse jumped before the lunchbreak, while MHS Seventeen was fifth from the end of the day’s jumping, and that gave Ros ample time to work on reformatting her mental hard drive.

“I basically went and rewalked at lunchtime with a completely different mindset,” she says. “I’ve just made sure all week to remind myself to split the rides in two, because they’re quite different. I’ve been watching old videos of Sarah Way riding him ride him round Blenheim, just to see how she did it, and rewatching videos of them both has really helped me keep them separate.”

Selina Milnes and Cooley Snapchat. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Selina Milnes might fly under the radar a touch — and if she does, it’s unfairly so, because her track record of finding and producing incredibly talented horses speaks for itself. In nine-year-old Cooley Snapchat, she’s got a rising star that we could, and probably should, see on plenty of British teams in the not-too-distant future; he stepped up to CCI4*-S just one year ago, and since then, he’s won this summer’s Bramham CCI4*-S, finished fifth in Blenheim’s prestigious eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S, and now, in his debut CCI4*-L, he’s finished on his dressage score of 29.9 to take fourth place. And next year? A win at the level wouldn’t come as a surprise to us one bit.

Luc Chateau and Bastia de l’Ebat. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s Luc Chateau and the relatively inexperienced twelve-year-old Bastia de l’Ebat very nearly finished on their dressage score this week: just 0.4 time penalties yesterday stopped them from becoming one of the seven to do so this week. Their fault-free round today, though, meant that they finished the competition on a 30.2, climbing from nineteenth to fifth.

For Luc, and for his family, it’s a particularly special moment, and a particularly special horse.

“My emotions are really strong,” he admits. “It’s the first CCI4*-L for this horse, and to finish fifth is magic. The horse is from our family’s stud; he was born at home, and I actually rode his father [Houghton and Tattersalls CCI4*-S winner Propriano de l’Ebat] at Boekelo, so it’s really a special history that I have with this horse. It’s magical for me.”

Propriano de l’Ebat was an undeniably excellent horse, but Bastia outshone him roundly today: Propriano had knocked three rails for a 60th place finish here in 2012, while Bastia made easy work of the job at hand today.

“I really need to give him confidence, and then he does the job all by himself,” smiles Luc. Now, it’s hard not to imagine that he could find himself potentially looking ahead to a spot on the Olympic longlist with the horse, though, he says pragmatically, “the places will be very difficult to obtain for next year with just three on the team, and it’s always nice to feel that you’re in consideration, but the road ahead is still long.”

Laura Collett and Dacapo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Like last year, Laura Collett and Dacapo knocked a single pole in this final phase and dropped three places as a result. This year, that was from third to sixth, rather than first to third — but, explains Laura, the circumstances of that pole were completely different.

“I was actually chuffed with him, because he tried really hard. Last year we had a rail because he was being a bit of a lazy pig,” she laughs. “This year, he actually jumped really, really well. I’m obviously annoyed and gutted, but I’m delighted with him. He came out and he really jumped in there — it was just a bit of a shame, really, but that’s horses.”

The close of the 2023 season marks something of a fresh start for ‘Cal’ — or, at least a revised set of goals, which comes after an abortive cross-country round in Luhmühlen’s five-star this year, and many years of hard work on Laura’s part to unpack the brain of a horse who just can’t always quite be bothered with it all, unless he’s at one of his personal favourite events. Boekelo is one of those, and yesterday, Laura’s confidence in that knowledge was bolstered by a super round, one second inside the time.

“You know when you go out the startbox with him [whether he’ll rise to the occasion],” says Laura. “At Luhmühlen I knew I was in trouble from the moment I left the startbox! He was totally up for it yesterday, though — for some reason, he loves it here. He actually gave me probably one of the best rides; I didn’t have to work too hard, he actually travelled and was just having a lovely time, really. It’s just nice to have him back. We know him now: he’s not a five-star horse, and we won’t try again. He can just come here each year and have a lovely time! There’s worse horses to have in the yard than one that keeps coming and finishing top-ten in a four-star long — so long may that continue.”

Tim Price and Jarillo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tim Price finished seventh with the nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood Jarillo, who proved why he was a podium finisher at last month’s Blenheim eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S with a cooly, classy trio of performances this week that saw him finish with just two time penalties on yesterday’s cross-country course to add to his 29 dressage.

“I’m so happy,” says Tim. “You just want them to come through sound and healthy, and he’s all that, which means you can start to think about next year and what you might do. He’s just been great in all three phases: he was a baby in the dressage and looked at the screen and things, but didn’t come off the job, although we didn’t quite produce our optimum where he’s at now. Then cross country, he was lovely. I gave him time and got some time faults — my intention was to just ride the horse first. I think, almost, that not having a top dressage meant it’s not like I’m trying to hunt the competition down. And he’s just such a lovely horse, and he’s such a careful jumper, I don’t want to go out there and hammer him around in the middle of the course and have some moments where he’s got to dig deep. I just wanted him to understand how easy it is and how he can cope with the stamina. It’s his first time over eight minutes and I couldn’t be more happy with all that, and then today, he’s just jumped like a show jumper.”

Jarillo didn’t show a jot of residual tiredness after his efforts of yesterday — “don’t you love young horses? They bounce back,” laughs Tim. “I’m really happy with him, and it definitely sets him up for next year and beyond.”

Though Blenheim was just a couple of weeks ago, the positive knock-on effects of Jarillo’s week there felt evident for Tim as he tackled each phase here.

“He feels a bit more forged as an Advanced horse this time,” he says. “Even though he’s young and green, the canter half pass, trot half pass, and changes aren’t a surprise to him anymore; he’s not like, ‘what’s this new stuff?’ I think going to Blenheim helps with that, plus the fitness that it put into him — up the hill and across the water and down and around — pushing him a wee bit there was definitely good for his fitness. It’s a big course at Blenheim, it’s quite permanently built and presented, and he coped there very well. It was a great prelude to this.”

Felix Vogg and Dao de l’Ocean. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Switzerland’s Felix Vogg confirmed a potential Olympic partner in the ten-year-old Selle Français Dao de l’Ocean, who climbed from first-phase fifteenth to a final ninth, adding nothing yesterday to his first-phase score of 29.4 and then, frustratingly, rolling the final pole today to move down three places from his overnight sixth.

“The horse is young, he did everything that he could, but I messed it up,” rues Felix, who was nevertheless delighted with the gelding’s performance in his CCI4*-L — especially as the path here hasn’t always been straightforward. He took the ride on after the end of the 2021 season from France’s Aurelie Gomez, who produced him to three-star, but for much of last year, Dao de l’Ocean had more educational outings than competitive ones, picking up a long string of cross-country jumping penalties and eliminations as Felix worked to produce him into a confident, capable partner. The turning point came at Montelibretti last November, when he won the CCI3*-S; he then began this season with another win at the same venue, though at CCI2*-S to confirm that newfound confidence, and has since had six top-five FEI placings and made the move up to CCI4*-S successfully.

“Last year he was quite crocked; he had a lot of eliminations, stops and everything,” he says. “We worked quite a lot over the winter, and this year he won quite a lot or was top-five in most things. He couldn’t do a log on the ground out of trot at first, he was so spooky and scared of everything. So I did a lot of cross country last year, but like 80cm, really low, every week, two or three times. And in the indoor in the winter and stuff like that, and I think that helped him quite a lot. He has everything that you wish for, but that’s the only thing which is still missing a bit — the strength.”

Though quieter tracks such as Montelibretti are great for building the skills that Dao needed to thrive, Felix didn’t want to go down the same route in making this step up: “I wanted to come here to do the first one because it’s a test and if he does it, it’s proper proof for the future. What he did was just brilliant yesterday.  Especially now, when he sees the line and two flags, he’s going for it. Last year, it was still like, ‘I’m unsure, what should I do?’ And now he’s like, especially yesterday when he did that, it’s a really nice effort.”

Now, Felix hopes there’ll be big things to come over the next nine months or so, including — if all goes to plan — a little trip to Paris next summer.

“He’s all ready. Only in dressage the strength has to go up a little bit, so that he can carry himself a bit more, but cross country and the show jumping is actually really good,” he says with a smile.

Karim Laghouag and Embrun de Reno. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

France’s most-loved comedian-on-horseback Karim Laghouag helped to confirm a win in the Nations Cup for the French, but in delivering his clear inside the time today, also nabbed himself a tenth-place finish with nine-year-old Embrun de Reno — a smart finale to an extraordinary climb from first-phase 48th, after adding just 0.8 time penalties yesterday to their dressage mark of 33.1.

Cosby Green and Jos Ufo de Quidam. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

22-year-old US representative Cosby Green finished 25th with relatively new ride Jos Ufo de Quidam, climbing from an original 73rd place after adding nothing to her score sheet yesterday and a single rail and 0.4 time today. That’s not just a very respectable result in its own right — it was also enough to earn her the title of best Boekelo rookie (hear us out here: a Roekelo?). That’s an even bigger deal, she explains, because she didn’t even necessarily know if she was going to be able to ride here at all a week ago. That all changed when Boekelo decided to take all its entrants and host a record-breaking size of field this year.

“I’m so happy, I really am — I’m very, very happy,” she says with a broad grin. “But my expectations were quite low! I found out Monday afternoon after returning from Lignières the past week, that I got into the competition, and I hadn’t obviously ridden him for the week before. This had always been the plan, but when I found out I finally got in, it was super exciting. My plan was to get a good MER and get a solid result, but really, everything about it was unconventional, so to have this result is just so exciting.”

Yesterday, she says, the 15-year-old gelding “gave me the ride of my life. He was so fast! It was hard all day — I had to sit there watching you know the best riders in the world go round, have some mistakes and whatnot. I just went out there and I attacked it and believed in my horse and he believed in me, and we had an amazing, amazing round. I was very stuck to my plan. I knew exactly. He’s one of the best cross country horses I’ve ever sat on, so I wasn’t too deterred by anything. But it was good to have breakfast, I will say!”

And today, he looked as fresh as ever, jumping neatly around the influential track.

“He was amazing,” enthuses Cosby. “With the big atmosphere, you never know how they’re going to act, but I think he just gave that little bit more to me, which is which is always what you hope for. He’s awesome.”

Now, Cosby will head to Pau to finish her year, before a winter trip back home to the US — and then she’ll be back before the spring season for another stint with Tim and Jonelle Price and then, presumably, world domination.

“It’s really nice that all my top horses have had really strong finishes in this fall season. I just hope I can finish this out strong!

Tiana Coudray and D’Artagnan. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tiana Coudray and her try-hard nine-year-old D’Artagnan tipped two rails and added 0.8 time penalties to finish in 36th place — but that won’t be much of a disappointment for the Olympian, who debuted the gelding at Novice last year and has been astounded by his quick, easy, generous progress through the levels. Now, with his first CCI4*-L behind him, there’s a whole future jam-packed with success to come — and that’s very exciting, indeed.

Hallie Coon and Cute Girl. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Hallie Coon and Cute Girl, who had delivered the second-best dressage test of the whole competition and a hugely classy cross-country round yesterday, with just one green error from the CCI4*-L debutant mare, also gave a masterclass in the arena today, jumping a classy clear with just 0.4 time to finish 59th, and brimming with hope for the nine-year-old mare’s undoubtedly bright future to come. Just. Look. At. Those. Knees. We’re obsessed.

The final top ten at Boekelo 2023.

With two of their team riders in the top ten, it’s no surprise at all that overnight leaders France secured the bag in the Nations Cup competition, finishing 13.4 penalties ahead of second-placed Great Britain. Third place went to those intrepid Belgians, who also secured the win in the 2023 series leaderboard, while the US’s squad of developing horses and riders completed a climb from eleventh to fourth, just two penalties off a podium finish.

James Alliston and Karma. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The best-placed of the US team was Brit-turned-West-Coaster James Alliston, who threw down the gauntlet with a very cool clear round with the enormously likeable nine-year-old Oldenburg Karma, who was bred on the West Coast by Patricia Crowley. That was enough to secure him a final 14th place, well up from the 75th place he began in — such is the power of finishing on your dressage score, and that’s just what he did to end up on a 35.9.

Cassie Sanger and Fernhill Zoro. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Nineteen-year-old Cassie Sanger and her Fernhill Zero had just the fickle final fence down to finish 35th, capping off an educational and hugely exciting week for the pair, who have delivered mature, measured performances brimming with quality over all three phases, and will no doubt be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.

Phillip Dutton and Denim. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Phillip Dutton’s eight-year-old Denim also had the final fence down, plus 0.4 time, to finish in 45th place, a smart finish to a developmental week for this classy young gelding, who was formerly piloted by the Netherlands’ Merel Blom-Hulsman.

We reported last month that Italy had, unofficially, qualified for the Olympics by default as the only contenders coming into the final Nations Cup leg, which awarded a Paris ticket to the highest-placed unqualified team in the series standings — and today, by dint of the competition finishing, they truly and officially became our latest team to secure that coveted Olympic qualification. Bellisimo.

The final team standings in the 2023 FEI Nations Cup finale.

Janneke Boonzaaijer and I’m Special N take the Dutch National Title. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

And finally, the Dutch National Championship went back to 2022 winner Janneke Boonzaaijer, this time on I’m Special N, who were the only competitors in this leaderboard to jump clear, though they did add 0.8 time to their score sheet. That allowed them to step up from overnight third place after leader Merel Blom-Hulsman knocked a rail and added 1.2 time penalties with Vesuve d’Aveyron, dropping her to second, and overnight second-placed Sanne de Jong and Global Faerlie Flashy knocked three and added 0.4 time to move to third.

The final standings in the Dutch National Championship.

And so, for now, that’s EN over and out from another brilliant Boekelo. It’s been a wild ride, and we need some Berocca. Go, we implore you, To Sleep.

Military Boekelo Links: Website | Entries | Live Scoring | Live Stream | EN’s Coverage

EN’s coverage of Boekelo is presented by Kentucky Performance Products.

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